Informatics Newsletter October 2017

Issue 9 of our School newsletter for staff and students.

Recent news stories from around the School

  • The University of Edinburgh is ranked #14 in the 2018 Times Higher Education World Computer Science subject ranking.

Edinburgh Computer Science #14 in annual world THE ranking

  • The University of Edinburgh is one of eight UK universities to join a partnership with BBC Research & Development that will apply data science to better understand the BBC's audiences and shape future content.

Edinburgh partners with BBC and UK universities to unlock potential of data

  • Barbara Webb and colleagues have discovered how the wiring of bees’ brains helps them plot the most direct route back to their hive.

Brain study reveals how insects make beeline for home

  • Sensor technology that helps consumers to use less gas and electricity – and potentially save on energy bills – has already been successfully installed in 100 homes under the research initiative from the University of Edinburgh and Changeworks. Organisers are now seeking a further 150 households from Edinburgh and the Lothians to take part in the scheme, known as IDEAL – Intelligent Domestic Energy Advice Loop.

Households given expert advice in bid to be energy smart

  • Informatics Ventures and Women’s Enterprise Scotland teamed up to join the conversation about challenges that females in STEM subjects and the tech industry are facing throughout their careers. They ran the first event in the series on 24th October that included talks and workshops dealing with the challenges women in IT face.

Making IT work for women


Recent research funding successes

Steve Renals and colleagues have secured funding for SpeechWave project that will pursue an alternative approach to robust speech recognition, in which deep learning to learn speech recognition directly from the speech waveform will be used. 

SpeechWave project to address accuracy in speech recognition


Philip Wadler is a co-author of Gradual Session Types published in a new journal, PACMPL, devoted to publishing papers presented at three top programming language conferences.

Session types are a new form of type that models patterns of communication, currently only available in experimental systems.  To facilitate their adoption, we need a way to integrate systems that support session types with systems that lack them.  A recent body of work, called gradual typing, integrates new code that supports data types with older code that does not by checking at the boundary that data passed from old code conforms to the types expected by the new code. Facebook has developed new languages that work in exactly this way: Hack interfaces with legacy PHP code, and Flow with legacy Javascript code.  Similarly, we need to extend gradual typing to session types, checking the communications from old code conforms to the session types expected by new code.  The new paper is the first to provide a description of how to do so.  Wadler's part of the work was carried out under an EPSRC programme grant joint between Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and Imperial College, with Wadler as PI.

Gradual Session Types - Igarashi, A., Thiemann, P., Vasconcelos, V. & Wadler, P. 1 Sep 2017 In : Proceedings of the ACM on Programming Languages (PACMPL). 1, IFCP, p. 1-28 28 p., 38

Full text about Gradual Session Types

Student success

  • YSE 2017

MInf student, Orisa Ngampakdeepanich has been awarded 2nd place in the Young Software Engineer of the Year 2017 awards for her project entitled "Peter’s Adventures: A tablet app to elicit pretend play with children with ACS”.

Informatics student awarded 2nd prize in the Young Software Engineer of the Year 2017 awards

  • Phase-Functioned Neural Networks for Character Control

Taku Komura’s student Daniel Holden presented his project Phase-Functioned Neural Networks for Character Control at SIGGRAPH, the annual conference on computer graphics. The project is a collaboration between Daniel, Taku and Jun Saito from Method Studios.

The project proposes use of a new kind of neural network called a "Phase-Functioned Neural Network" to create a character controller suitable for games. The controller requires very little memory, is fast to compute at runtime, and generates high quality motion in many complex situations.

The researchers also present a technique for fitting terrains from virtual environments to separately captured motion data. This is used to train the system so it can naturally traverse rough terrains at runtime.

The system feeds on motion capture clips showing various kinds of movement. Then, when given an input such as a user saying “go this way” and taking into account the terrain, it outputs the animation that best fits both — for example, going from a jog to hopping over a small obstacle.

No custom animation has to be made transitioning from a jog to a hop; the algorithm determines that, producing smooth movements and no jarring switches from one animation type to another. Although plenty of game engines do improvise a little for things like foot placement and blend animations, this is a new approach that could prove more robust.

This neural network could make animations in games a little less awkward

Phone box project group photo
(top left to right) Arlene Casey, Amy Isard, Nathalie Dupuy, Janie Sinclair; (bottom left to right) Philippa Shoemark, Rui Li, Jennifer Sanger, Pablo León Villagrá
  • Talking phone boxes on the edge of the Hebrides

Postgrads from Informatics are taking part in an exciting project on a remote Isle of Tiree. They have secured funding from IIG (Innovation Initiative Grants) to deliver talking boxes to the edge of Hebrides. A group of eight students (seven female!) left for Tiree on 25th October.

The project is a collaboration with Tiree TechWave, a hands-on making and meeting event exploring the edges of technology on the wild edge of Scotland, organised by Alan Dix (Talis and University of Birmingham) and Graham Dean (Highwire, Lancaster University). Tiree community has been gifted red phone boxes, which are currently undergoing restoration. Informatics student are taking a mock box to Tiree to show the community their ideas for using the box. One of the ideas is for an app that would be a map of the island linked to the Heritage Museum on Tiree. They are going to create a Facebook page for the phone box and invite users to post queries about the island.

The participants see the project as an opportunity not only to have a break from their current projects, but also to think about how technology can be used in rural areas. They hope to engage with the islanders to talk about their own projects. This project involves students from three of the School’s institutes and the CDT. Jon Oberlander is their official staff sponsor.

Tiree Tech Wave website

  • Best Student Paper Award at IEEE ICACSIS 2017

Taku Komura’s student Muhammad Febrian Rachmadi received the Best Student Paper Award at IEEE ICACSIS 2017 that was held at Jakarta on 28-29 October for his paper "Voxel-Based Irregularity Age Map for Brain's White Matter Hyperintensities in MRI" (authors: Muhammad Febrian Rachmadi, Maria del C. Valdes-Hernandez, Taku Komura.

The International Conference on Advanced Computer Science and Information Systems (ICACSIS) provides an international forum that brings together those who are actively involved in the field of Computer Science and Information System to report on up-to-the-minute innovations and developments, to summarize the state-of-the-art, and to exchange ideas and advances in all aspects of systems engineering, human machine interface, and emerging applications.

In other news

Head of School selection committee

Steve Renals is the staff representative on the Head of School selection committee. He is looking to get inputs from all staff regarding the selection of next Head of School. To do this, he will hold five meetings during November for senior academic/teaching staff, less senior academic/teaching staff, research staff, computing and technical staff and administrative staff during which you are welcome to share with him your views, hopes, and concerns on this matter.

Input from individuals is welcome, send Steve and email or see him in person (IF-3.15).

Email Steve

Updated mailing lists

Mailing lists have been updated and the full list is now available online.

Updated mailing lists

Outreach and Public Engagement Opportunities

  • British Science Week grants

If you're thinking of running or being part of an event in 9-18 March 2018, then you (or your event partners) may benefit from funding from the British Science Association.

Further information about the streams of funding (of up to £1000) can be found below.

More about Applications for British Science Week 2018

  • Beltane: Engaged Learning and Teaching, 20th Nov, 4:30-6pm

The next Beltane Twilight session for Edinburgh's four universities will be on engaged learning and teaching: for the purposes of this informal meeting, engaged teaching is where the teaching and learning is somehow linked to interactions with communities outside the university in question. There is often an emphasis on learning through practical experience (AKA 'experiential learning').

Register on EventBrite

  • Pint of Science volunteers, Nov 2017 - May 2018

Pint of Science is an annual festival that happens over three evenings in May simultaneously in multiple cities around the globe. Each night, science researchers explain their latest findings to the general public – all in the comfort of the local pub. Lots of roles to develop the next festival in Edinburgh are currently open to staff and students including: Event Managers, Publicist, Treasurer, Web Manager.

More about Pint of Science

If you’re interested in being part of Pint of Science 2018 in Edinburgh, please get in touch via one of the email addresses below.

Email Anders

Email Eszter

  • Heriot-Watt looking for collaborators for EISF project

Researchers at Heriot-Watt are organising a new free family fun day for the Edinburgh International Science Festival to take place at Oriam (at the Riccarton campus) on Saturday, 14th April. As a result they currently have a call open until the end of the week for potential contributors.

Contribute to this event

One of the proposed activities is a 'Crystal Maze' style set of challenges, which need to be research-based, and take up to 10 minutes to complete. Brilliantly, as part of the plan, they will be looking to bring in community groups to the campus – from Livingston/West Lothian areas, and Sighthill/Wester Hailes – with the aim to make these science festival activities accessible to audiences that don't typically attend.


  • Sleep in the Park

This year, Social Bite are bringing together 9,000 people in Princes Street Gardens on 9 December for the world's largest ever Sleep-Out to try and end homelessness in Scotland for good. Students and staff are encouraged to get involved either individually, in groups or by sponsoring others. If we manage to raise £50,000 then the University will be able to proudly sponsor one of the proposed houses at the new Social Bite Village in Granton. Initial sign up is free and to attend the event a minimum fundraising of £50 per participant is required. A private donor has enabled the initial £50 donation to be waived for the first 200 University of Edinburgh students and staff who sign up using the special code.

You can sign up using the referral code SITPEDI.

Sign up for free

Sleep in the Park website

  • Winter Graduation

The Winter Graduation ceremony is taking place on 30 November at 11am at McEwan Hall. Please join us after this for a drinks and prize giving reception at the Debating Hall of Teviot Row House, Bristo Square. This event will be running from 3:00-4:30pm.

Register to the Informatics winter graduation reception

  • NQIT

The Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub is hosting a 2 day workshop on "Quantum Information Technologies: Challenges and Applications" (October 30-31st 2017 in the Informatics Forum).

NQIT website

  • Designed Mind

Designed Mind 2017, conference with keynote by Daniel Dennett will take place on 8-9 November. The Dennett keynote is also a public lecture.

Designed Mind 2017

Daniel Dennett public lecture

On Thursday 9 (also part of the symposium), there will be a public performance by Canadian rap artist Baba Brinkman. Tickets are £10 (more information below).


  • Dealing with Data

Registration for Dealing with Data 2017 is now opened in MyEd.

Register for Dealing with Data

The Dealing with Data 2017 webpage is live and will be updated with the full programme and other information.

Dealing with Data 2017 - One day conference

  • Big Data and Infection

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases invite you to a half-day workshop exploring Big Data and Infection on Wednesday 29 November 2017. This event brings together a range of speakers from the NHS, basic biological science and computer science perspectives, focused on the use big data of in infection medicine. The aim is to understand the needs of users, governance issues and the potential to develop bespoke IT solutions, including those required for data integration.  

Full programme and registration

  • Mental Health and Wellbeing Week

1 in 4 of us will struggle with our mental health each year and many more will be affected by the stigma surrounding mental illness, but lots of us struggle to find the words to talk about how we're feeling. EUSA is organising Mental Health and Wellbeing Week, running from 13 - 17 November, with a whole range of events and activities planned to address mental health issues.

Let's Talk campaign

Guess who?

Worked/lived for 8 years in France (Marne-la-Vallée region) and can speak French?

Mon nom est...


Keep in Touch

For all the latest news, keep an eye on our website and social media!

Informatics Communications team website



Edinburgh Informatics Alumni group on LinkedIn


The newsletter is produced by Communications Team.

If you have any questions or comments please get in touch!


Share your news